DVR box is dying, Woz's wisdom and other cool things learned at SNW

Wozniak says innovative projects, not tests, should determine a student's grade; the popular DVR follows your every move

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. - Every time I attend an SNW show, which equates to 20 in the past 10 years, I tend to learn something new because I get to speak with a lot of cool tech people from a variety of industries.

That was certainly the case this week when I interviewed Richard Rothschild, TiVo's senior director of IT and facilities -- and a distant relative to the European banking dynasty.

While I don't own a DVR (relax, I plan to), speaking with Richard offered some fascinating insights into the world of online and television entertainment.

For one, those set-top boxes you cherish so much because they offer sans-commercial entertainment programs, also keep track of all your TV habits.

The information gathered by the DVR is sold by TiVo and other device makers to clients that use them to create laser-targeted marketing and advertising.

Some even combine the viewing information with data compiled by retail store membership cards to determine how effective ads have been. Yes, that's a little creepy, but it's marketing world in which we now live.

I also learned from Richard that you'll probably be saying goodbye soon to that set-top DVR box, as TiVo is now partnering with flat screen manufacturers to integrate DVR functionality into television sets.

He also sees the DVD going the way of the CD, (sales of which will be overtaken by digital music next year) as streaming video grabs more and more market share. TiVo already partnered with Netflix to create the Watch Instantly streaming-movie service on TiVo HD-compatible set-top boxes.

In the future, likely deals with cable television providers like Comcast and tablet makers such as Apple will allow consumers to customize their television viewing experience. For example, Richard said software integration with mobile devices could allow you to remove those annoying banner ads that sometimes show up advertising one television show as you watch another.

Tablets and other mobile devices will afford future TV viewers the ability to open a second screen on their television that's linked to the content they're viewing. Consumers will be able to exchange comments with online friends about the show, or they'll be able to search for information about the television series or movie they're watching, he said.

"So if you like the shoes that woman's wearing on the show while you're watching it, you can search for them and buy them online," Richard said.

Woz on what drives innovation

Among the cast of characters at this SNW was Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who gave a keynote speech on the first day of the conference.

Wozniak, better known as Woz, typically speaks as if he's spent the last 15 minutes of a flight preparing his comments - they come off as if made from a bulleted-list of points and very much off the cuff. "I'm supposed to speak here for half an hour. What do I speak about?," he said, as the event moderator walked away, leaving him alone in front of a lectern and microphone.

I've interviewed Woz before and he comes off as a down-to-earth man with great passion for technology. More importantly, he shows great compassion for others as well as hope for the future of humanity. As he likes to say, he wants to leave a "bit of good behind" wherever he goes. That is no doubt why, after leaving Apple, he became a fifth grade computer sciences teacher for eight years in his hometown of Los Gatos, Calif.

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